Much has already been written about Harvey Weinstein’s decision to retain the service of Sitrick and Company, one of the best-known crisis firms in the country.
Most of the rhetoric has either excoriated Sitrick for defending such a heinous client who continues to see one starlet after another come forward with new accusations of rape. Others defend Sitrick arguing that, as is the case in our jurisprudence system, any defendant is innocent until proven guilty and deserving of counsel.
Few, if any, have weighed in on what I have to believe are the toxic effects of Sitrick’s decision on the average Sitrick employee.
It’s one thing to advocate on behalf of such controversial clients as Big Tobacco and quasi-dictatorships, but the Weinstein crisis strikes at the very root of our nation’s latest flashpoint: sexual harassment. I wonder how female employees of Sitrick explain to their family and friends how they can work for an organization that is defending such an alleged serial predator. That can’t be a fun discussion.
And while Sitrick has a long-standing record of defending controversial clients, this could prove to be their Waterloo. Just look at what happened to Bell Pottinger, a leading U.K. public relations consultancy. They found out the hard way that defending the wrong client at the wrong time can not only destroy employee morale, but actually put the firm out of business.
I believe Sitrick chose to defend Weinstein because the firm lacks a clear purpose (Note: a purpose may be defined as why an organization exists, why its employees show up to work every day and what higher purpose does the company serve). In other words, the firm is rudderless.
I recently co-authored a blog with Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society in which we said: “An overwhelming number of employed adults expect their organizations to speak up in times of crisis. But doing so should be guided by the corporate character (or purpose, if you will). A purpose should serve as a company’s ethical and moral company, and guide a CEO’s decisions and actions.”
Lacking purpose, Sitrick chose profits over people (and principles) and, I believe, will pay a very heavy price.
After word: I did some quick sleuthing to see if some of the best PR firms in the business do, in fact, have a clear purpose. They do. Two of the best came from:
- Edelman: “….We drive powerful connections between companies and the greater good. In other words, we help marry profits and purpose…”
- Weber-Shandwick: “….We’re energized by the ways our diverse global network of employees apply their passion and ideas in partnership with clients around the world to contribute to a brighter future.”
I’d like to believe that neither Richard Edelman nor Andy Polansky, CEOs of Edelman and Weber, respectively, would even entertain the notion of representing Harvey Weinstein since their purpose would guide them to do the exact opposite.
I respectfully disagree and have a different take. I think Sitrick will be just fine. This doesn’t involve racial divisiveness to manipulate a country’s politics.
Your disgust, which I share, is a bit counter to what communications teams always clamor for — a seat at the table to be trusted counsel, like attorneys. Looked at that way, doesn’t every scumbag who can afford it have a right to the best crisis communications?
I’d add that Sitrick’s Sallie Hofmeister, a former LA Times business and entertainment editor, is very tough. She knows exactly who she is dealing with. If ole’ Harv isn’t pliable after his Arizona rehab stint (and/or is late on payment), expect Sitrick to dump him and feed him to the media sharks. Maybe the experience will teach them something, maybe it won’t, but I don’t think it will kill them.
Harvey is justifiably a pariah, but this looks to just be the tip of the harassment/molestation ship now hitting iceberg Hollywood. This is likely resonate with more shocks, especially involving producers, directors and more studio suits. Doesn’t that mean more firms, including the big ones, will have more money thrown at them and need to wrestle with their consciences? Will they have the time, patience or fortitude to take their employees’ temperature for clients like these?
That is why as time goes on, I predict that Sitrick’s foray into this territory will be forgotten.